Academy sees record-breaking turnout

Published 10:37 pm Friday, March 30, 2018

The largest-ever graduating class of Commonwealth’s Attorney Citizens Academy students received their certificates of appreciation on Thursday after a month of in-depth classes into how their city operates.

The sixth annual Citizens Academy held by the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office met Tuesdays and Thursday for five weeks in March at the Godwin Courts Building.

Community Outreach Coordinator Joan Turner said 68 people signed up for the academy this year, nearly double the 38 that registered last year and a new record for the free program.

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“I’m hoping that we will have the same number of participants next year or more, but we can’t double it again or else we won’t be able to fit in the courtroom,” Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson said with a smile in the courthouse.

Juan and Darlene Lascano receive their certificates of appreciation from Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Ferguson at the graduation ceremony for the sixth annual Citizens Academy held by the Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office on Thursday.

Guest speakers explained the policies and day-to-day responsibilities of the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, along with the city’s four other constitutional officers — Commissioner of the Revenue Susan Draper, Treasurer Ronald Williams Sr., Clerk of the Circuit Court Randy Carter and Sheriff E.C. Harris.

“We elected these people, and now we know what they do,’ said Suffolk resident Juan Lascano, who enrolled in the program with his wife, Darlene Lascano.

The participants also learned about general crimes, child abuse crimes and services the office provides to victims and witnesses. Darlene Lascano was particularly affected by the discussion of domestic violence cases and resources that was led by Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Meredith Travers and Victim/Witness Assistant Director Brittany Landon.

“I didn’t know that there were so many protections and programs for victims to get help,” she said.

The program drew all kinds of people from throughout Hampton Roads. Amber Quick is a traffic defense attorney for the Hampton Roads area with the law firm Christina Pendleton and Associates in Richmond.

She got valuable insight into the court proceedings in Suffolk that may come in handy for future cases.

“The speakers were amazing and were very engaging with their presentations,” she said.

The program was meant to educate citizens well enough for them to share their newfound insight into city governance. The Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office frequently does presentations for civic leagues, churches, schools and other organizations.

“It’s our hope that you will go back in the community and share this knowledge and information with others,” Turner said.

That’s precisely what the Rev. Michael Frazier planned to do at East End Baptist Church.

“My primary role at East End Baptist Church is minister for community engagement, and what I learned here will be very helpful,” Frazier said. “I can help advocate for those who may need the services of our government offices and the justice system.”

Some students said they had more confidence in city government after they learned what their elected officials could do for them.

“They’re here to support the community, and that was very reassuring to hear,” Darlene Lascano said. “It made me feel great to be a citizen of Suffolk.”